Camp Marston marks 100 years of skits, s’mores and sing-along songs, but can it survive another century?


In April 1921, San Diego developer Ed Fletcher persuaded a handful of businessmen to join him on a five-hour horse-drawn wagon ride through the mountains of North County near Julian.

Fletcher’s plan was to convince the men – whose names now adorn local streets, schools, and parks, like George Marston, Roscoe Hazard, and LA Turrentine – that the YMCA San Diego needed an overnight camp ” where the boys could escape the city conventions and embrace the attractions of nature.

His idea was successful, and the men convinced a landowner in the Pine Hills area to rent a 2-acre gently sloping meadow from the YMCA in San Diego for $ 1 a year. Four months later, the newly baptized Pine Hills Boys Camp was born with the arrival of the first pack of about 100 young boys. Renamed in 1929 after Marston – who helped create Balboa Park and the San Diego County library system – Camp Marston has survived, prospered, and grown. Last month it celebrated its 100th anniversary with campfires, crafts, hikes, singing, s’mores and skit parties.

Tom Madeyski, who has run Camp Marston for nearly 32 years, stands at the front door of the YMCA’s 250-acre property near Julian.

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Longtime Camp Marston manager Tom Madeyski, 64, said the camp experience hasn’t changed much over the past 100 years. But the cost of doing business has skyrocketed, especially fire insurance coverage for dry property. In order to ensure that Camp Marston can provide a rite of passage experience for thousands of young people for the next century, Madeyski is raising funds to build an endowment fund for the camp before his retirement next spring.

“You never know how much a camp can change a child’s life, but I know it has a social and emotional impact,” said Madeyski, district executive director for YMCA night camps. “People need to know how precious a place like this can be, and I want to do everything in my power to preserve it. “

A group of boys at Camp Marston in 1923.

A group of boys at Camp Marston in 1923.

(San Diego County YMCA)

“A healthy and happy outdoor life”

In the early years of the camp, the boys paid $ 10, plus $ 1.50 for transportation, for a week-long camp that offered “a healthy and happy life in the great outdoors” filled with hikes, campfires and activities that ended up including archery, boxing, rifle shooting, swimming, rock climbing and horseback riding. In 1929, the first cabins were built, and in 1937 electricity arrived.

Originally, the camp had a military format with an early morning wake-up call. As a member of the YMCA, acronym for the Young Men’s Christian Association, founded in 1844, Camp Marston taught Judeo-Christian principles, as well as the four core values ​​of benevolence, honesty, respect and responsibility. These four values ​​are still painted and engraved on the walls of the camp today. Among the camp’s most famous alumni were baseball legend Ted Williams, actor Charlton Heston and TV host Art Linkletter.

In its early days, Camp Marston only offered tent camping.

In its early days, Camp Marston only offered tent camping.

(San Diego County YMCA)

Through several land acquisitions over the years, Camp Marston has grown to 250 acres, which includes a nearby sister camp, Raintree Ranch. In 1960 Camp Marston began offering camps for girls and in 1966 the camp became co-ed. Today Camp Marston welcomes approximately 15,800 campers per year. It operates 340 days a year and offers sixth grade school camps, summer camps, family camps, and youth camps, priced from $ 300 to $ 800 per week. Last week, more than 220 grade six students from Aviara Oaks Middle School in Carlsbad were in residence.

Over the years boxing was phased out, .22 rifles were replaced by BB rifles, horses moved to Raintree Ranch, rock climbing gave way to an artificial climbing tower and dodge ball. has been replaced by a smoother, smoother game called gaga ball. Nowadays Camp Marston has a swimming pool, volleyball court, soccer field, paintball field and the artificial lake Jessop, which almost dried up this summer in due to lack of precipitation.

In 1960, the YMCA introduced girls' camps at Camp Marston.

In 1960, the YMCA introduced girls’ camps at Camp Marston.

(San Diego County YMCA)

In the past 100 years, the camp has only closed twice. The first time was in the mid 1940s during the polio epidemic. it closed again from March 2020 to June 2021 for the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2003, the cedar fire burned much of the hills surrounding the camp, but its structures were rescued by two fire truck companies who used the camp as a firefighting area.

To reforest the fire-blackened hills, Camp Marston personnel planted 40,000 pine seedlings donated by the California Department of Forestry. During the drier months of the year, young campers would walk the hills every day and water the baby trees with small cartons of milk filled with water.

Sixth grade students from Aviara Oaks Middle School in Carlsbad play football at YMCA centennial Camp Marston

Grade 6 student from Aviara Oaks Middle School in Carlsbad plays football at YMCA’s Camp Marston on Tuesday, September 21

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Camp traditions

Earlier this summer, Madeyski transformed a storage room at the Camp Nature’s Center into a museum showcasing Camp Marston’s 100-year history. The walls are printed with camp programs from the 1920s, embroidered camper badges, historical documents and archival photos. One wall features photos of married couples who met their future spouses at Camp Marston, and there are many photos celebrating the camp’s most beloved traditions.

Camp weeks always include day hikes to visit local sites like the Mystical Pegasus Trail or “Triple Dead Fred,” a beloved but now deceased tree. Since 1932, every camp week has ended with a candle light ceremony. And every camper should participate in the skit night by delivering a few spoken lines at the Old Oaks Amphitheater.

Camp Marston Director Tom Madeyski inside the camp's newly renovated dining room.

Camp Marston Director Tom Madeyski inside the camp’s newly renovated dining room.

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Over the years, the camp program has adapted to changing times. School campers today are learning more about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and global warming than 20 years ago. The camp has also adapted to the reality of children who have grown up with electronic devices. A recent National Wildlife Federation study found that kids today spend seven hours a day in front of screens and only seven minutes a day playing outdoors.

Camp Marston’s Code of Conduct requires that campers leave their cell phones and other electronic devices at home, or be prepared to hand them in at check-in. Sometimes overprotective parents slip phones in their children’s luggage or give their child a “dummy” phone to hand over if caught. But Madeyski said most campers – ages 7 to 17 – love to be detached from their home and school life for a week because the camp gives them freedom, independence and a fresh start.

Grade 6 students at Aviara Oaks Middle School hike from Camp Marston to Raintree Ranch

Sixth-graders from Aviara Oaks Middle School on a one-mile hike from Camp Marston to its sister camp, Raintree Ranch, near Julian, on September 21.

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“What the children appreciate most about the camp is the ability to create a real genuine friendship and the freedom to be themselves,” said Madeyski. “In the camp, there is no luggage, no social groups and all social barriers are falling. They learn to be independent, to socialize, and to be confident and resilient. Children can become children again.

Madeyski was 10 when he first went camping on the East Coast, and 16 when he got his first job as a camp counselor. He is now in his 42nd year at the YMCA and in his 31st year at Camp Marston. During a visit to the camp last week, he shot a few arrows at the archery range, played solo volleyball and enthusiastically climbed hills. Although it is a little sad to retire next year, he hopes to leave Camp Marston in a better financial position before leaving with his plan for the Campaign endowment for the second century.

“The camp is where I have always felt better than anywhere else,” he said. “Camp can be a lot of things, but it’s really just one thing: people learning to live together in small groups in the great outdoors. ”

For more information about Camp Marston, visit ymcasd.org/camps/camp-marston.

The man-made Jessop Lake at YMCA's Camp Marston seen from above

The man-made Jessop Lake at the YMCA’s Camp Marston is no longer available to campers for boating because its waters have receded due to drought.

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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